Phillis Wheatley's "An Hymn to the Morning"

Updated on April 19, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Phillis Wheatley

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "An Hymn to the Morning"

Phillis Wheatley's talent was recognized by George Washington, who became a fan of the poet. Wheatley's verse has earned her the status of a first class American poet, whose style resembles the great British poets, who were also influenced by the classical literature of the early Greeks and Romans.

Phillis Wheatley's poem "An Hymn to the Morning" consists of ten riming couplets, separated into two quatrains (first and fourth stanzas) and two sestets (second and third stanzas).

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

An Hymn to the Morning

Attend my lays, ye ever honour'd nine,
Assist my labours, and my strains refine;
In smoothest numbers pour the notes along,
For bright Aurora now demands my song.

Aurora hail, and all the thousand dies,
Which deck thy progress through the vaulted skies:
The morn awakes, and wide extends her rays,
On ev'ry leaf the gentle zephyr plays;
Harmonious lays the feather'd race resume,
Dart the bright eye, and shake the painted plume.

Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display
To shield your poet from the burning day:
Calliope awake the sacred lyre,
While thy fair sisters fan the pleasing fire:
The bow'rs, the gales, the variegated skies
In all their pleasures in my bosom rise.

See in the east th' illustrious king of day!
His rising radiance drives the shades away—
But Oh! I feel his fervid beams too strong,
And scarce begun, concludes th' abortive song.

Reading of "An Hymn to the Morning"

Commentary

Phillis Wheatley was influenced by Greek and Roman classical literature, as well as by early 18th century British poets, who were also influenced by that same literature.

First Quatrain: Invocation to the Muses

Attend my lays, ye ever honour'd nine,
Assist my labours, and my strains refine;
In smoothest numbers pour the notes along,
For bright Aurora now demands my song.

As the early 18th century poets such as Alexander Pope did, the speaker of Wheatley's poem addresses the nine muses, asking them to guide her hand, heart, and mind as she composes her song.

The nine muses are the goddesses who guide and guard the various arts and sciences: Cleo (heroes), Urania (astronomy), Calliope (music), Melpomene (tragedy), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Erato (love), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Polyhymnia (sacred hymns).

Then the speaker says that dawn, "Aurora" or goddess of dawn, is motivating her to write her song dedicated to the goddess of morning, and the speaker wants the song to flow smoothly like a gentle brook, so she asks the muses to "pour the notes along." The speaker want to be sure her song his worthy of being dedicated to the important morning deity.

First Sestet: Honoring Dawn's Arrival

Aurora hail, and all the thousand dies,
Which deck thy progress through the vaulted skies:
The morn awakes, and wide extends her rays,
On ev'ry leaf the gentle zephyr plays;
Harmonious lays the feather'd race resume,
Dart the bright eye, and shake the painted plume.

As morning approaches, the stars recede from view, and the speaker asks the muses to help her honor dawn's victory of arrival. The speaker describes the morning's sun with its far-reaching rays of light. She observes that the light is falling on every leaf, and a gentle breeze is playing upon them.

The humble speaker pays homage to the songs of the birds as she describes their singing as "harmonious," and she notes that as the birds are looking around, their eyes are darting about, and they are shaking their feathers as they wake up.

Second Sestet: Playful Foregrounding

Ye shady groves, your verdant gloom display
To shield your poet from the burning day:
Calliope awake the sacred lyre,
While thy fair sisters fan the pleasing fire:
The bow'rs, the gales, the variegated skies
In all their pleasures in my bosom rise.

The speaker bids the trees to "shield your poet from the burning day." She is over-emphasizing a bit, calling the shade of the trees, "verdant gloom." The playful comparison moves in service of foregrounding the sun's brightness as well as the colorful morning's sun rise.

She addresses Calliope, the muse of music, to play upon the lyre, while her sisters, the other muses, "fan the pleasing fire." Fanning fire makes it burn brighter, and she is celebrating the rising sun that becomes warmer and brighter as it becomes more visible. The little drama is pleasing the poet as she composes.

Second Quatrain: Light into the Darkness

See in the east th' illustrious king of day!
His rising radiance drives the shades away—
But Oh! I feel his fervid beams too strong,
And scarce begun, concludes th' abortive song.

The speaker thinks of leafy alcoves, and gentle breezes, and the sky with its many colors of purple, pink, orange stretching across the vast panorama of blue, and these things give her much pleasure. Then she suddenly exclaims, "look! the sun!," to whom she refers as the "king of day."

As the sun rises, all darkness has gradually faded away. The radiance of the sun inspires the speaker so immensely, but then she feels something of a let down: "But Oh! I feel his fervid beams too strong, / And scarce begun, concludes th' abortive song." As soon as the sun has fully arrived, then the morning is gone, and her song was celebrating morning, and thus the song must end.

Questions & Answers

  • What is the stanza form for Phillis Wheatley's "An Hymn to the Morning"?

    The stanza form for Phillis Wheatley's "An Hymn to the Morning," is two quatrains and two sestets.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    22 months ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, Laurinzo. Glad I could offer some useful info. Have a blessed day!

  • Laurinzo Scott profile image

    Live To Write 

    23 months ago from Phoenix, Az.

    Bravo!!!!! I am sooooo glad you wrote about this little known Poet... I for one did not know her race or background until recent ... Thank you!!!

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)